Of high school, ego and resumes:
It’s funny, the things you remember about high school.
The smell of the gym filled with noise. Walking down crowded halls hoping you don’t stand out too much and that when you do it’s because you were wearing just the right thing, or because of something notable you had accomplished. I remember the victories, defeats, and rejection, both real and imagined.
Some of my memories are painful, others triumphant.
And I remember the first time I thought about my resume, that list of “achievements” that we hope will make some counselor or employer think we are worthy of admission or a job.
It was the fall of my senior year when my friend, I’ll call him Mark, first mentioned how I should get involved with the student government association. It would look good on my college applications, he said. Plus, it meant an essentially free period during which I could wander past teachers undisturbed.
Until then, I hadn’t given the matter of my resume much thought, thinking my solid B average and participation in the game I loved, basketball, would be sufficient to get me past the admissions officer’s test of my worthiness. But I soon learned to enjoy the freedom and additional respect of my teachers and peers when I told them I was involved with the SGA. Heady stuff, planning the construction of floats and arranging for a DJ at the next school dance. Life changing work, I’m sure I thought.
When I matriculated to a small liberal arts school in the deep South, I soon realized there were more ways to become intoxicated—with beer and bourbon. I began to pad my resume with activity, joining service clubs, many of them doing some good and noble things, and feeling the endorphin rush of my own self-importance. Becoming a member of the student judiciary, meting out justice for violations of our school’s honor code—nothing wrong with that. I was making a name for myself. After all, ambitions of law school and public office were growing within me and if I was going to change the world, I was going to need to demonstrate I was capable.
But looking back through the lens of time and meditation, I realize many of the things I did were little more than attempts to feed the insatiable hunger of ego with my achievements. There is no one to blame for this, save myself.
Perhaps it is what all of us must do long enough to realize how hollow such pursuits can be before we recognize such things are the junk food of our souls. Mindlessly driven by the next thing we accomplish, many of us live in a state of excited misery, unaware of the inner constructs that push us around. We need to pay attention to whatever dogs bark within us that drive us to such madness.
Meditation helps me with that. It helps me question my motives and allows me to see my ego as the imposter that it is. That doesn’t mean there isn’t work worth doing. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t join service clubs or run for office or take care of our bodies. It just means that if we look, we can see things, see ourselves, as they are and become more deliberate about our choices. It means we can skillfully choose to engage in the things that are genuinely meaningful to us—the things that satisfy us, giving us joy and energy, even when we face something difficult or exhausting. It means we can avoid some (but probably not all) of the dumpster fires of our lives.
My friend Angela talks about how she and her family try to live deliberately in how they invest their time, spend their money, and care for their bodies.
They call it being intentional.
In doing so, I’m sure they avoid many of the distractions of today’s busy, often scary world.
I think—no, I know—I’m getting better at this.
I no longer race through life saying yes to things I want to say no to. I don’t worry about my resume the way I did in high school and college—and all the way through my late 40s. Today, when someone notices me, I hope it’s because I’m kind and deliberate. Those are things I’d like on my resume. My friend Mark didn’t mean any harm. His intentions were for my good and I’m sure he didn’t know what he was planting in the soil of my life that I was ready to nurture.
Looking back on high school now, I still sometimes get that ache of embarrassment in my stomach, as if some of the things that happened to me then had just happened. I still remember when I missed an easy shot on the basketball court. Growing up isn’t easy. Even now, at mid-life, I’m still that same awkward kid, standing six feet five and weighing barely 180 pounds. But when I look back at that kid, I try to do it with honesty, courage and gentleness.
Perhaps you should do the same.
Author: Jim Owens
Editors: Catherine Monkman; Emily Bartran